Slow Going

It’s been about a month since the collision happened now, and recovering from the concussion has been frustratingly slow going. Over the weekend I made my second attempt at running since the incident, and the next day I was nauseous and dizzy again. I had been looking forward to being healthy enough to do the prep work and testing week that my coach has had the team doing, begrudgingly accepting that I’d just be a week behind. It took me a lot of internal arguing and self-reflection but ultimately I accepted that it just isn’t time yet. I wrote my coach that I wasn’t ready. Then I sat down and cried.
It’s not all a sob story – it gave me some important realizations. One is to crystallize my goals and intentions. My wife told me “at least it didn’t happen the month before a race.” Sage advice, to be sure, but in hearing it, I realized that the race isn’t my ‘why.’ It’s not actually the most important thing to me, not by a long shot. I’m gunning for consistency and lifestyle change, becoming a “full-time-part-time” athlete. That’s what had made me sad – the realization that I had to let go of my ambitions to be consistently active through this period of the year, which has always been my most challenging period. I was so motivated and prepared and ready to do it. My brain just isn’t ready yet. But now I clearly see what’s most important to me – consistency over time. So I feel more prepared to be patient and exercise restraint.
My goal now is to be healthy. I want to do my baseline tests, not because everyone else is doing them, but because they will give me and my coach information and data that will make it achievable for me to train consistently over the long term. That’s the point of doing it. And I suppose I have my bruised brain to thank for the realization. I guess concussions are good for something.

In the good news of the day, I got my bike back from the bike shop, and it’s a thing of beauty.  Upgraded wheelset means it dropped a full pound.  It’s so light now, it’s like it doesn’t even exist! 

Adventure Ride

Some pretty big stuff has happened since I last wrote an entry, but for now I’m going to step back to recap a fun ride that I did just before winter hit here.

There’s a great and eclectic group of people that I’ve connected with through the local bike shop, Vermont Bicycle Shop, who are part of the shop’s “adventure club.” It’s not exactly a team, and not exactly a club in the traditional sense, and not exactly anything else.  It’s a somewhat loose collection of people, most of whom hang around the shop fairly frequently, who get together and go on halfway madcap rides that deliberately seek out challenging, weird or nonsensical destinations and routes. The one thing I’ve seen that this ragtag band of cyclists (in the broadest of definitions) all have in common is that bikes are an extension of their identity in one way or another.  Lots of people enjoy cycling; for these folks, the line of distinction between themselves and the bicycle is hard to find.  

I’m the only triathlete in the group, and one of the few with a roadie background, so I amicably bear the brunt of a lot of jokes about aerodynamics and fancy equipment.  I don’t mind.  It’s always good to receive perspective from others, and there’s plenty of opportunity for me to jovially strike back when the mood is right.  

The ride of the day was to be a gravel ride, on dirt roads with quality ranging from “maintained” to what’s known around here as “Class IV.”  To normal people, a Class IV road is something you would normally only see on the Discovery Channel or if you got lost in the woods.  Usually just a vestige of the past and only technically a road, they are swaths of relatively clear space cutting through the remote Vermont forests, littered with rocky glacial remains and leading to places only the hardiest of folk will ever see. To adventure bikers, it just means ‘fun.’

The group gathered at my house, as it was the ideal starting point for this particular loop.  That gave everyone plenty of opportunity to make fun of my brand new Bont triathlon shoes, which I had just gotten fitted since literally tearing the soles off my ancient pair of Garneaus.  Considering it was about 35 deg. F and these shoes are basically open-air slabs of carbon with velcro straps on top (they don’t even have a tongue), they were definitely an unusual choice for the day. They were my only choice, though, apart from putting platform pedals on my bike and wearing hiking boots.  I was too excited to try them out to miss the chance, so I doubled up my socks and stuck some plastic baggies over my toes in between and let the ribbing fly.

We set out, starting on dirt roads and heading further away from civilization as we went.  One of us realized he had a soft tire, but luckily we were riding right by his house so he stopped to swap out his bike (the N+1 rule is widely followed in this group.  I’m an outlier, having a mere two bicycles in my possession). No big deal, and we continued onward.

Some of my favorite parts of the day were when we paused to regroup, and found ourselves in a serene section of the forest, where nobody was around, but there were quiet signs of life if you knew where to look.  A farmer’s field, just through the treeline.  The peripheral lines of a sugarbush down the hill. An abandoned cabin by a pond, once idyllic, now forgotten and reclaimed by the encroaching wilderness.  Artwork on an old barn.

These are the moments that give ‘adventure biking’ its definition for me, personally.  But everyone has their own ideas of what it means, which is part of why it’s such an interesting thing to do.

Our first Class IV section was traversed with great enjoyment, and spilled us back out onto a dive-bombing gravel road that intersected suddenly with a main asphalt town highway.  Brakes were vigorously applied.  Luckily, none failed.

From there, a decision was to be had. Do we continue on the planned route, or do we diverge back into the woods to tackle a serious Class IV section that promised adventure of the hardiest sort, an incredibly technical downhill on terrain that could only be called a ‘road’ if you squinted real hard, were slightly drunk and had never seen a river before?  I had the suspicion that this was the plan of the ride’s organizer (shop owner and mechanic Darren) all along, and that he lured everyone in with the relatively sane route in order to spring the change of tack on them at the fateful moment of divergence.  It wasn’t a far stretch with this group; the decision was all but foregone.  Plus, Darren brought snacks.  So off we went.  To adventure!

Getting to the challenging bit required some more climbing on dirt roads, which was fine by me.  I love climbing, and I love doing it on dirt roads, now that I’m the proud owner of an Orbea Terra, which is basically a carbon frame road bike with almost-all-terrain tires.  I felt great and looked forward to every foot we went up.  

Back into the woods we went, and the challenge was suddenly upon us.  Photographs and videos unfortunately can’t do it justice, and my phone died from the cold before I made it to the bottom, which is where the better perspective would have been provided.  But picture a steep hill in the forest.  Now, make it twice as steep.  Now, rake out all the trees in an 10-foot-wide swath, straight down the hill.  Then erode it with wind and particularly water for about 100 years.  Find all the boulders and rocks under the soil that you can, and leave them there.  Call it a “Class IV” road.  Now get on your bike.

Those riding fat bikes were the only ones to make it down successfully.  The more experienced riders on gravel bikes generally made it about halfway.  Darren made it ¾ of the way down, displaying excellent bike handling skills, but then missed a line and over he went.  He was certain he’d cracked his frame and damaged his drive train because he landed right on a boulder, but he miraculously evaded consequences.

For my part, I stopped about halfway down and walked.  I knew there was no way I was going to survive the descent without falling, and I didn’t want to break anything – on myself or my bike.  What I hadn’t accounted for was my shoes.  Walking down a mostly-dry glacial riverbed meant I was slipping and stumbling off boulders with every step.  Not exactly the surface a pair of triathlon shoes were meant to walk on.  After I got home later, I photographed the bottoms of my brand new babies and sent the picture to Darren in horror, asking if I had just ruined everything.  Luckily the damage is largely cosmetic.  But I’ll be re-thinking my footwear choices for this kind of ride in the future for sure.

Once we all made it down, across an intersecting stream bed and up a hill on the other side, it was back out onto gravel roads and onward to home.  We had all met a challenge together, survived it and had a blast doing it.  Exactly what an adventure ride is meant to be.

Back in the zone

4 days down this week, with little to no hesitation or holding back, and things seem to be holding up well. I’ve had moments of tightness but no pain.

I’m trying to take lessons from this experience. It was a very minor injury, all things considered. It hasn’t taken long to get back to training how I want to be training. I missed a couple of runs and bikes but I was still able to swim, and swim pretty hard. My reaction was an emotional one, out of proportion and probably detrimental to other aspects of my life.

It’s yet another example of triathlon teaching life lessons. Find perspective. Things are rarely as bad as they seem. Above all, remember and learn, and apply next time.

This week has been a sudden preview of the coming onslaught of winter, and a test of my cold weather riding gear. My first ride was in 35 degree rain; today it was 28 degrees and snowing. I know I’m going to need an indoor trainer, but I’m putting it off as long as possible. Being outdoors is too important.

On the way home today I rode by my youngest daughter’s outdoor ECO class and stopped by for a visit and some tic tac toe with sticks and leaves. Definitely a highlight of a very cold ride.

Easy run

Today I went out for an easy run. It was on the schedule as an easy chill run anyway, but I took it extra slow, running near 11-minute miles and being really careful on the hills in particular. I stopped a couple of times to stretch also.

I felt the muscle pull but it didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel like it was slowing me down. A few times there were periods where I didn’t feel it at all.

Afterward, I felt it probably more than I had during the run itself. So I don’t think it’s completely better, and I’m not sure what will happen when I get back on the bike. But for now I’m glad to have been able to get out for a quick run at least, and get a green compliance day on TP. I’m trying not to be overconfident about it, but I’m very eager to put those red non-compliance days far behind me soon.

Injuries

Early in this year of training, I hurt my calf. Just running along, then all of a sudden whoops, my calf is busted. It was a bad pull if not a tear, and it was debilitating and discouraging and basically awful. When you’ve built so much into your training, not just as physical conditioning but also as an emotional and mental therapy, being prevented from doing it is close to nightmare.

Yesterday I went out for a run in the cold rain. I started on hills, which was nothing particularly new. At my turnaround point, I felt something in my upper inner thigh. And it wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t one of those normal running pains that come and go. It was flaring when my thigh went back and when I brought it forward, a sharp kind of pain that felt white and distinct. Before long, I was walking. The first time I’d had to walk since I hurt my calf. I walked for about a mile and then was able to jog home slowly. I knew I couldn’t do my scheduled strength workout though. My first scratched workout in this 12-week plan.

I didn’t pay enough attention to myself when my calf got hurt. That is, I didn’t take note of the process of what happened after. At least not in a way that I internalized as any kind of useful information. If I had, I wouldn’t be so devastated right now. I would have learned something. I would believe in temporary, not permanent things. I would feel the value in rest and recovery, even if it’s forced. I would be okay.

I don’t feel okay.

I was able to swim today, a strength workout of about 2,000 yards total. Just an hour. I did it with a pull buoy so there was very little load on my legs. Still, I felt it when I had to stabilize myself in the water. It was hard to force out of my mind.

In the parking lot, I jogged to the car. Just to see. I felt it. Sore and tight. I wouldn’t make my run feeling how it felt. Another scratch.

It’s not failure. It’s part of the process. It happens. Injury and recovery. Build up and taper. Still.

I don’t feel okay.

Anxiety Dream

The other night I had a dream about triathlon. It was an anxiety-saturated, confusing mess of brain processing.

I was in the middle of doing Ironman Boston (a race which, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t exist). I think I had just gotten out of the swim, but I’m not sure. I was on top of a hill, and looking for the transition area. I guess it was T1 because I didn’t have a bike with me.

There were a few cones or flags or something , but then the route sort of devolved into an indistinct urban landscape, and I had no idea where to go. There were people everywhere, but strangely no other athletes. I was befuddled and rapidly becoming frustrated.

I made my way down the hill and then across an asphalt playground. I went inside a building, which seemed to be a school of some kind. I went through a series of rooms, trying to find any kind of information or help.

Eventually I managed to find the race director, of all people. He was in a small, cramped office and seemed more like a school administrator than an Ironman race organizer.

I made my frustrations known and he showed me on a map where I had to go – a long, meandering route, miles through the city, along railroad tracks and alleyways, just to reach the transition area.

There was nothing to do but move forward. I found the railroad line eventually, but realized I didn’t know which direction to follow them.

Luckily, I saw another athlete for the first time that day. It was a relay participant (apparently there was a relay in this Ironman, lol) and he was waiting for his team member to arrive to tag him. He was crouched down, legs coiled, ready to take off at a sprint…even though there was no other athlete in sight. Citizens walked down the street, side-stepping around him.

By the direction he was pointed, I deduced which way I had to go. And I was off again.

First ride on the new ride

This was meant to be a 1 hr workout with 30 minutes of ‘big gear’ in zone 3 or so, but I was hungry for a couple of climbs and was pretty amped up about being on my new bike. I followed the first couple of intervals but it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do that for the whole ride; not because I couldn’t hit the zones, but because I was in zone 3 for most of the ride. Slowing down on purpose on a climb isn’t normally in my nature and was even more unthinkable today.

The bike feels very light (because it is) and it’s really motivating to crank it up the hills. There’s a climb right near my house that I have been using as kind of a benchmark of strength progress. In May of this year, it took me about 6 minutes to do the segment. Today, I smashed my most recent PR by 9 seconds, making the climb in just over 4 minutes. That felt really good.

I know that for the long term, I need to learn to slow down — not just in terms of relative speed, but mentally. I’ll never finish a 70.3 riding amped up like this. But on a day when the point is to build strength, it’s pretty fun to hammer. Especially on a shiny new bike.

Old Bike New Bike

My trusty steed of 17 years was acting funny in the shifters the other day so I took it into the shop. I was on my way to my swim workout when my mechanic sent me a message:

The front derailleur mount tab thing had split and was about ready to let the derailleur just fall off my bike. That explained why I was having trouble shifting into my big ring all of a sudden.

There was some consideration of whether it could be welded somehow or ground down and replaced by a clamp style derailleur, but at the end of the day it was just another step in a downward spiral that had been going on for a while. The bike was showing its age. It was getting less and less worth it to invest repair money in. I had been planning on getting a new ride next year; this just moved up the timetable.

I talked over options and was eventually convinced to test ride an Orbea Terra, which is technically a cross bike kind of, but has road bike geometry. So it’s a road bike you can put wider tires on. Which is a big advantage where I live because the roads aren’t great, and being able to ride on gravel opens up a lot more options.

I was concerned that it might be a slower solution. I am not objectively that concerned with speed but I didn’t want to feel like I was downgrading my ride, or riding a mountain bike.

I took the bike out for a spin of about 20 miles, with about 1600 ft of elevation, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. My average was great, easily comparable to my old road bike, if not faster, and I hit a max speed of 47 mph, which was perhaps my fastest descent all year — and I barely noticed.

The wide tires make for a really comfortable, stable ride, but don’t seem to sacrifice much speed at all, surprisingly. And it’s a carbon frame, so climbing felt light and strong. The gearing is different and will take some getting used to but I already like it a lot. I felt fast on the hills, both up and down.

Best of all, come race time I can put 25mm tires on it and I’ll be good to go.

I had been feeling pretty sad about losing my old friend. But things are looking up. And bonus points: I think my old ride should still be useful as an indoor trainer bike.

Videos and Race Planning

I’ve started an experiment of recording training journal diaries for each day of my current training plan. I don’t know yet whether I’m going to do anything with them. But it’s a quick way to get a certain kind of thought out, often much more easily than typing. Right now I’m thinking I’ll stick to it for a week and then get a second opinion on whether they should go public.

We have started looking ahead to summer planning for next year already, and that is bringing my mind around to figuring out a race schedule. This year was learning about triathlon and doing 3 sprints, to see if I liked it. Next year is going to be something more. Whether that means Olympic or bigger challenges, I’m not yet sure. I’m hoping it’s something that coaching can help me figure out in the coming weeks.

My main concern is avoiding burnout. I want to find the right trajectory that will keep me interested and motivated over the long term, and won’t leave me susceptible to massive post-event backsliding like I’ve experienced in the future.

Today I rode on wet roads and my bike looked like I went trail riding by the time I was finished.